Author Archives: Saanya Gulati

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About Saanya Gulati

Saanya Gulati is a senior at Tufts University from India, majoring in International Relations and Sociology.

Time for South Asia to step up

For those who believe that India and Pakistan’s relationship is underexplored when it comes to economic trade, Pakistan’s granting India the Most Favoured Nation status would naturally come as good news.

In the simplest of terms this means that India and Pakistan can finally benefit from the gains of free trade, given their proximity to each other and their large economies, which fits in with the underlying principles of the gravity model. It also forms a new avenue for cooperation between the two countries, something that they have long struggled with.

Here at SAPAC we chose this topic for our second roundtable. A question that came up was whether we can really see this as “good news.” This is in light of two factors. The first that even though India granted Pakistan MFN in 1996, relations have still been unstable, and so perhaps much hasn’t changed in this respect. Which is related to the second more pertinent factor. The political instability.

The reason this may be a more relevant factor is because it pertains to the South Asian subcontinent as a whole. We’ve heard it before. India despite it’s burgeoning economy has faced civil protests and more violence resistance in other regions. Bangladesh is currently dealing with war trials from the 1971 and Sri Lanka is cleaning up the mess from it’s civil war, while Nepal is dealing constitutional reforms. For Pakistan and Afghanistan, which get a significant amount of media attention, we are aware of their problems.

It’s unfortunate but perhaps also unsurprising then that the South Asian subcontinent is one of the least economically integrated regions.

Similar concerns were voiced at the “Fourth South Asia Economic Summit” conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh, that called for better governance and stronger institutions to facilitate economic cooperation. Is this what is holding us back?

There are two ways of looking at the situation: the first is the domestic outlook, where there is a landscape of political instability in the region which we can’t overlook. At the same time if we look to our Western economies and the global economic situation day, then even issues like the Most Favoured Nation status speak volumes for a region of the world that is undoubtedly rising economically as it attempts to disentangle itself from it’s past conflicts. Maybe it is time for South Asia to step up.

Posted in Economics, Politics | 9 Comments

Indo-Pak’s underexplored relationship

Written by Sanjana Basu:

A few months ago I went to an event called,“The Quest for India-Pakistan Normalization: The Road Ahead,” sponsored by the United States Institute of Peace. As the name suggests, the event was trying to focus on measures to build a more positive relationship between the two countries.

Now I say trying because, like every other India-Pakistan event, majority of the discussions revolved around the frequently debated issues of Kashmir, and the long lasting rivalry that has plagued the sub-continent for the past sixty years–which I do not intend to trivialize under any circumstances.

However, in spirit of the event and the confines we were present in, I appreciated and deemed much more valuable the presentations and conversation that flowed from the second panel which was called “The Underexplored Option: Economic Cooperation as a Path to Peace.” ‘Underexplored’ is a word that best describes Indo-Pakistan cooperation: more so, on the economic front.

Mr. Mohsin Khan, a Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, provided some compelling insight into the opportunity cost of what he called an “unnaturally small” degree of trade between the two nations.

He brought attention to the huge potential for economic trade and the prospects of peace that can follow if short term and medium term measures are taken towards changing the current situation.

Based on gravity models, the ratio of actual to potential trade between India and Pakistan fluctuates between 0.02 and 0.05 or the percentage of trade between the countries is a meagre two to five percent. These numbers are shamefully small compared to the average of fifty percent trade that takes place between neighboring countries. Obviously acknowledging that India and Pakistan are not just neighbors but bitter enemies, measures to slowly but surely bridge this huge gap in trade is something that the two countries should whole heartedly pursue.

Some trade facilitation measures Mr. Khan pointed out were easing visa restrictions, facilitating sea shipments, increasing rail traffic and opening additional border crossings and bus routes (among several others). This will provide a channel to negotiate more potent issues like tariff barriers in India, and the hostage of transit trade in Pakistan.

In addition he pointed to infrastructure, energy, Information Technology (IT) and FDI, as other areas to build a trade relationship.

Building on Mr. Khan’s ideas, Sanjay Puri, the Chairman of the U.S-India Political Action Committee focused more on the impact such a changed economic relationship will have in terms of prosperity. He emphasized that tapping into the economic potential between India and Pakistan is not just an exercise in peace but a responsibility towards the people of both countries, who are facing the cost of a bitter relationship.

Cross border IT cooperation, pharmaceutical cooperation, and job mobility to a youth that deserves to be employed are among the many benefits that this relationship may bring. He concluded by pointing to the demographics of India according to which approximately seventy percent of India’s population will be under the age of thirty.

This generation will consist of citizens of the globalized world with no first hand memories of the devastating partition. For them economic prosperity and the opportunities it brings is a priority. With similar demographic trends in Pakistan, this new generation can be the drivers of change in a rivalry that has colonized the minds of Indians and Pakistanis. It’s not just a battle of arms but of the minds that needs to be fought. And that’s where the real change lies.

As a part of this generation, these thoughts resonate with my hope for progress towards Indo-Pakistan peace. Being aware of the political struggles the two countries face, I think it is of utmost importance that India and Pakistan begin taking small steps towards exploiting this ‘underexplored’ economic relationship, ultimately pushing political change and over time changing the face of the India-Pakistan relationship.

Sanjana Basu is a senior at Tufts University from India and the co-chair of SAPAC.

Posted in Economics, Politics | 7 Comments

Aakash: Reaching for the Sky

I recently wrote an article about the “joy of e-books.”  Of course there were a lot of critical comments and the usual I love books and they will never die argument.

Unfortunately I don’t buy this. And neither do the producers of e-books. We now not only have kindles, but nooks, ipads and other “tablets.” The latest being the Indian invention of Aakash. (which means “Sky” in Hindi)

Why is this different? Because it’s half the price of a kindle.

In India if you want cater to the masses you think cost-effective. The world’s cheapest car, the Tata’s nano was perhaps not the best of ideas— I’m not against giving more people the opportunity to own a car, but one our traffic is bad enough the big metropolitans. And two, I’m not sure if families who already have 5+ cars really need a nano for “grocery shpping.” I’d  advocate for that money going into enhancing our public transport systems.

So this time we might have got it right. We’re encouraging people to read. We’re thinking about the masses but we’re thinking about social development. About education.

E-books in the developing world aren’t so much about being environmentally friendly as much as their educational value. Ebooks can change the face of education. Or should I say interface.

“The only way to provide books to the 2 billion children in the world is electronically,” wrote Nicolas Negroponte, the founder of one-laptop-per-child in his article “books are better without pages.”

And in some respects they certainly are. A few months ago South Korea’s education ministry declared it was going digital by 2015. Now lets wait to see what Akash brings for India and the rest of South Asia.

Posted in Society | 13 Comments

The Pakistani Soldiers

Written by Muhammad Arham Shoukat

The Soldiers of Pakistan, like soldiers of any nation, are men who sacrifice their lives and often return to their houses mutilated after a long and tiring battle. In other countries, such men would enjoy heroic statures and would be celebrated. However, here in Pakistan, when these men turn on their television sets at night, they see their nation ridiculing them. Yes, our army as suffered blows such as those of the Abbotabad incident and the PNS-Mehran incident, but that gives us no right to stop believing in them.

A few weeks ago, as a student in Boston, I was invited to my friend’s house for the weekend. His parents resided a couple of hours away from the downtown Boston in a little town of Quincy. As we drove over the Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge towards the great digs, leaving the beautiful skyline of Boston behind, I saw more than just the landscape change. And I realized that Boston was a city in more ways than one.

Besides being physically set apart from the cities around it, it stood alone in its moderation and liberalism. The voices of the Republicans and the Democrats had originated from this very city from institutions like Harvard, MIT and Tufts. This was a place where everyone was a true “patriot”.

As I drove on the high, I caught sight of flags and “red and blue” ribbons. I knew that the flag symbolized the support for the troops at war, but the “red and blue” ribbons? “These ribbons symbolize our support for our seals that have successfully eliminated Al-Qeada,” said my friend.

Times had changed, the last time I visited I recall seeing red and blue ribbons on peoples walls, shirts and houses. Majority of the U.S disagreed with their government, but they still supported their army. It has been more than 4 years since that day, and clearly a lot has happened in the world since then. But today, as Pakistan stands on the verge of anarchy, at war with an enemy that has seeped into the very fabric of our society, I long for an expression of unity. And I find myself thinking more and more of that yellow ribbon, confused as to maybe those little town Americans were right in their support.

What is so wrong with being a patriot? And why am I like many other Pakistani’s afraid to rally behind my countries armed forces, to send out positive, supportive signs as these men lay down their lives for us?

Since 9/11, the Pakistani army has suffered more than any other army in the world in terms of casualties. And yet we get nothing but negative reports about its performance in the media. One can be angry with the countries President, think that the dictator sold out and believe that our secret service is nothing but a “sinister” organization with its own agenda without losing compassion for our soldiers, the young men who are being killed every day.

The media today, so used to distorting everyone’s views, has clearly lost sight of the greater picture that exists. So used to being so cynical, we the Pakistani’s have clearly lost sight of those willing to die for us. But it was clear that this would no longer continue, at least not for me.

Almost five years ago, I met a group of people in a small suburb of New York who were neither sophisticated nor educated. And yet they were able to recognize the shades of grey, the fact that it is possible to support your troops without blindly supporting your government.
With the current situation as it stands today, I have realized that it is possible to be analytical without being negative, that is it possible to be patriotic without being brainless and heartless.

When our founders created Pakistan, they envisioned us as a nation that adhered to the principles of “Unity”, “Faith” and “Discipline”. For me there can be no greater show of unity than for a nation to support its troops. Maybe a red and blue ribbon is not the answer. But I, for one, have put up a Pakistani flag outside my house to show my solidarity with my nation — the one created by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and not the Taliban.

Muhammad Arham Shoukat is a senior at Tufts University (2012) from Pakistan.

Posted in Politics | 1 Comment

The New India? Whose India?

As I wrote in my earlier post, “the story of India is full of paradoxes” —We often talk of there being 2 India’s, usually referring to the income or social disparities. Shashi Tharoor takes this even further in his “Elephant Tiger and the cellphone” book to being 5 Indias, again using socio-economic status to determine these “Indias” However a post on WSJ’s India Realtime recently invented something entirely different: the “New India.”

What is this new India you may ask? Have a look at the blog yourself:

“(a) A place where the pursuit of individual happiness is now possible

(b) A place that wants to be a part of history

(c) A place where the most common job category for women is “maid”

(d) A place that is not that different from the old India”

Apparently it’s all of the above. It’s inaccurate, unconvincing and above all fails to mention where this data has been collected from, except for a book called “Miss New India.” Which is about a girl who moves to Bangalore to work in:

a)   no need for multiple choices on this one. Yes it’s a call center. Surprise.

The so-called lesson is that India now a place where it was now possible for people to pursue individual happiness rather than putting their families or communities first.

One issue with such blanket statements is that India is hard to define let alone generalize— as Indians we’re more caught up in the question of “which India or whose India,” rather than trying to find a general set of values – because frankly speaking that’s unrealistic.

Secondly, individual happiness and family values are not mutually exclusive. Nuclear families may be more popular in many parts of the country, more desirable than joint families which we all know can get messy whether it is over property or family businesses. At the same time families who are doing well financially are no longer living in the same house, but buying apartments in the same building to maintain family ties, but perhaps not live in too close a proximity. For the big shots it’s just private buildings.

We know the rich are getting richer. But this isn’t distancing us from family values. Families still symbolize an important if not the most important support network for an individual. As a final year Indian college student in the United States,  I know that if I return home I can live with my parents and this will not be considered anything but normal. If I choose to live on my own this would not be a problem either.

Society is changing. A decade ago it might not have been acceptable for an unmarried girl to live on her own. But to say that because it is okay today, does not mean that we’re putting our own happiness over our family’s.

So if writers in Brooklyn question whether India can replicate an advanced society and whether it is possible for India to become like America, it may be worth redefining what “advanced” really means. Can we not live in a society where family values factor into one’s individual happiness? Because it seems like we’re managing pretty well where we are right now. At least in the India that I live in.

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